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Paul Fox

A popular online brokerage prided itself on building a customer experience that made trading stocks as easy as swiping right or left to purchase a book online.

The company quickly scaled to 13 million active customers without building a contact centre or hiring a customer support team. The brokerage routed all queries into email with no option to speak to a human. This was by design and part of the company’s efforts to keep trading costs low for customers. It turned out to be a Devil’s Bargain.

Then came the GameStop incident. Huge spikes in trade requests to buy shares of the video game retailer led the broker to restrict trading without warning customers. A backlash built online with thousands of negative reviews from users, many of whom cited their inability to reach a human being at the brokerage to ask questions as their primary complaint. Only a few months later, another outage for an entire trading day froze its customers out of one of the hottest stock market rallies in recent years. Again, users took to Twitter to complain loudly about the service.

Mobile-first and app-first businesses are too focused on efficiency

While mobile-first and cloud native application companies pride themselves on slick signup flows and frictionless experiences, all too often they opt to totally automate customer service and other customer experience aspects. Similar dynamics played out when a leading mobile-first, online-only bank suffered catastrophic outages in 2017 and in 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem and gave the mobile bank fresh publicity bruises. In January 2020, hundreds of bank customers claimed their accounts had been frozen without warning or notification. The bank stated that the freezes were part of fraud investigations. The angry customers said that there were no fraudulent transactions on their accounts and that they resorted to pay for food and necessities on credit cards when they were unable to unfreeze their accounts in a timely fashion.

Customer experience without humans is bad for business

These two successful and fast-growing fintechs have been on the leading edge of creating a beautiful and smooth user experience, they also highlighted the risks of completely removing humans from tech support. While customers may delight in digital excellence when all goes smoothly, they quickly grow frustrated when the edge cases emerge - an inevitable reality when dealing with any complex set of systems in industries such as finance, health care, telecommunications, and utilities. To resolve issues in times of crisis or when problems are particularly complex, customers insist on talking to a human.

To be clear, artificial intelligence, chat bots and automated omnichannel support all have the capability to handle many common queries and interactions. Checking balances, finding out the status of a shipment, or even troubleshooting services are now common tasks taken on successfully by AI systems that chat, text or email with customers. Human customers expect the convenience of getting quick answers to simple questions through smart automated chat experiences.

That said, they do not like it when a request to speak to a representative is met with silence or an explanation that email will have to do. For major purchases, talking to humans is a key part of the buying process. A study by Google found that 70% of people searching for product information on mobile phones used “click-to-call features.” That same survey found that 57% of mobile searchers who made calls wanted to talk to a real person and 54% had questions or wanted more information than a website could provide.

Customer experience that relies too much on humans and call centres is also bad for business

On the flip side, customers do not pine for the good old days of waiting 30 minutes to talk to a contact centre agent before being passed to another department (and possibly hung up) before finally emerging with yet another phone number to call. Almost all enterprises and organisations today have multiple channels for customer experience interactions, however, adoption of digital channels, strong before Covid-19, was greatly accelerated by the pandemic. This is understandable. For example, no one could walk into a bank branch to deposit a check during Covid-19. So, logically, remote cheque deposits using mobile apps with scanners soared.

The early findings show that once customers have switched over to using digital channels, they are unlikely to go back. According to McKinsey, “Fully 75 percent of people using digital channels for the first time indicate that they will continue to use them when things return to 'normal'.” In financial services, for example, it turns out that customers like the convenience of easy chat or automated support for simple tasks because they can receive immediate answers on any platform, anywhere. And online grocery shopping, which saw its adoption double during the pandemic, became a lifeline for food and household goods.

Today, meeting customer experience (CX) expectations now requires offering a robust omnichannel experience. According to the 2020 Salesforce State of the Connected Customer survey, 40% of customers will not do business with a company if they can’t use their preferred channels, and 56% are initiating transactions in one channel then finishing the transaction in a different channel. “Companies are expected to be available to their customers 24/7. Customers want to speak to a representative as soon as they have a problem…” writes Salesforce in a blog covering the findings of the survey.

Even more than just talking to a person, they want a coherent conversation with a representative. While 78% of customers say they expect consistent communications across departments, only 59% feel like they are getting this consistency, the survey found. The root cause of this inconsistency is outdated contact centre systems that handicap the best efforts of agents by giving them incomplete pictures of customer history and interactions. In other words, organisations are under investing in the AI and integration tooling that can give humans contact centre superpowers and improve CX by creating a seamless, faster and more satisfying customer experience.

Goldilocks CX - just enough AI and tech, but with a human touch

The golden formula where CX can make an exponential leap in both efficiency and customer satisfaction lies in a “Goldilocks” version of the discipline. Just like the fabled porridge that is the perfect temperature, customer service and customer experience can have just enough AI and automation to offer customers their preferred digital channels - chat, email, social - for the low-hanging self-service conversations, but quick handoffs for escalations to live people on demand. By deflecting easy queries more effectively with AI, Goldilocks CX can allow humans to focus on the more complex or emotionally fraught queries beyond the capabilities of machines.

Better still, AI and smart integration can give agents a more complete view of the customer including their history, their likes, their purchase and accounts, and any notes. By pulling together data from various siloed systems across billing, CRM, troubleshooting and service desks, technology can enable support and contact centre staff to provide the more holistic approach that customers crave. In a crisis, keeping humans in the loop means there is a fallback when technology fails - and often customers need support the most. In fact, this Goldilocks future of CX is likely to be not only the happy medium but also probably the most profitable position for companies in terms of reducing customer churn, keeping employees happy, and delivering improvements in CSAT and NPI scores.

More than ever before, customers can cut the cord, open a new bank account elsewhere, switch phone providers and go to a different online store. Churn is expensive and damaging to your brand. Keeping a good customer happy is the most efficient path to revenue stability and profitability. A Goldilocks CX approach makes sure those customers get the best combination of technology and direct contact, leading to faster resolutions, better escalations, a better CX and most importantly a happier customer.

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Written by

Paul Fox

Paul Fox

Capita Customer Management

Paul is part of Capita’s Customer Management leadership team. He has over 20 years experience across a broad spectrum of industries and territories and is responsible for driving the shape of customer experience for clients; be it complete transformation of their customer service experience, or deploying a mix of expertise and technology innovation to improve or optimise a specific service area.

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